aka Shadow of the Pepper Tree
Directors/Screenplay/Producers – Francesca Fisher & Taggart Siegel, Photography – Alex Phillips, Music – Willie & Lobo, Special Effects – Daniel Cordera & Jose Lim, Production Design – Daniel Girdey. Production Company – Quetzal Films.
Maira Serbulo (Luna), Thom Vernon (Terence), Greg Sporleder (Willie), Malena Doria (Chantica), Benjamin Gonzalez (Rubio)
Mexico, 1968. Luna leaves home, annoyed because her mother, the local white witch, will not let her learn magic. She sets up in an old abandoned house and does healing magic for the locals. She and a visiting American, Terence, become lovers and she gets pregnant. When she discovers that Terence is also seeing and planning to marry a local flamenco dancer, she performs a black magic ceremony and causes the dancer to fall dead during a performance. Afterwards, she is ostracised by her mother and the locals but continues to use magic to try to make Terence come back to her.
The Offering, also known as Shadow of the Pepper Tree, is a New Zealand/Mexican co-production. It is an oddly international production the whole way – director Francesca Fisher is an a New Zealander who lives in the US and co-director Taggart Siegel is an American who has taken up residence in New Zealand. And despite neither of them being Hispanic, the film is set in Mexico. Thus the film is another Western attempt, a la the likes of The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), The House of the Spirits (1994) and Rough Magic (1995), to delve into the Latino tradition known as Magical Realism.
The Offering is a very colourful film. It exudes all of the colour and passion that Westerners are drawn to in Latino cultures. Best of all is Mexican actress Maira Serbulo, who has appeared in films like The Mexican (2001) and Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001). She seems to exude sensuality from every pore – she can (and in the space of the film is required to) portray everything from innocence to passionate violence. Less can be said about Thom Vernon – although he has a certain amiability, he remains too unappealing. His character is flawed by unclear motivation – we never see why he is deceiving Serbulo, nor is it clear why he is marrying the flamenco dancer.
The film is very nicely directed in places. A sequence under an eclipse where Maira Serbulo conjures magic for the first time is evocative, with Francesca Fisher and Taggart Siegel making strong use of the soundtrack. Good too is the shock image of her dancing naked in a horned mask. However, the film, while well made, disappoints somewhat. In the end, despite the colour of its cultural portrait, it has nothing deeper to say about magic than don’t stray into the black side.
This is a surprisingly obscure film that has only played several film festival screenings and appears to have had no wider cinematic or video release than that. Taggart Siegel stayed with an interest in Native magic and went next onto make the documentary Split Horn: The Life of the Hmong Shaman in America (2000) and has subsequently made the documentaries The Real Dirt on Farmer John (2005) and Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? (2010).